HISTORY – TIMELINE
The BIDTI was founded in 1994 on the initiative of then Prime Minister the Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike who has described as its creator and inspiration. It represented a fulfillment of a wish on her part which was an expression of her unique statesmanship. Like her distinguished husband she had always attached great importance to Sri Lanka’s diplomacy and diplomatic representation and in her career she took outstanding measures to in this regard. In 1970 when she assumed office as the Prime Minister for the second time she took the step which was unique of appointing her officers in Sri Lanka Foreign Service as Heads of Missions. Indeed she followed up by organizing a special Diplomatic Training Programme for them which was conducted in the premises of the Ministry. There were around 16 such appointees and Course which lasted around a month consisted of talks by Ministers, Heads of Diplomatic Missions, Heads of Governmental Organizations and scholars. This was the first such venture in training in diplomacy and the establishment of the BIDTI can be regarded as a crowning achievement in this regard. Appointments to Ceylon Overseas Service as it was called at that time began in 1949 but there was no organized programme besides sending officers for training programmes or University Courses or foreign Universities. Their training was mainly within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in Diplomatic Missions after posting. In 1966 a programme was organized by the Ministry for 12 probationers who were appointed in that year and this can be regarded as the first venture in directing diplomatic training. However, these initiatives were not continued and during the 1980’s there was no regular recruitment as in the past or training programmes. It was therefore with the election of the government of President Bandaranaike Kumaratunge that a fresh start was made in the field of diplomatic training.
This was the initiative taken by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranayaike to launch the BIDTI. She acted in consultation with Dr. Vernon L B Mendis whose services were available at that time and under the Prime Minister’s direction Dr. Mendis proceeded to establish the BIDTI. Premises for the new Institute were available in 1994 in the BMICH and this provided a fitting venue for it as a part of the Bandaranayaike Foundation. The real problem however was the establishment of the institute in these premises in the matter of furniture, furnishing and office requirements. The BIDTI as envisaged at the time was intended to be a training and teaching Institute in diplomacy and international relations and hence considerable equipment was required by the way of furniture, office requisites and structural needs. It is at this juncture that the BIDTI experienced a variable windfall from a generous donor in a lavish contribution which was made by to it by the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Sri Lanka acting through its ambassador His Excellency Mr. Micheal Schmidt. The ambassador contacted the Dr. Mendis and offered to meet all the initial expenditure on furniture, equipment and other office requirements. By utilizing this offer the institute was able to organize itself in a short time and it was ready to launch its programme in early 1995. At the same time the institute received a very generous contribution from Her Excellency The President who offered a grant from the Presidential Fund for the Institute. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the same time offered an annual financial grant to the institute. It was through the combination of all these grants that the institute was able to establish itself in a relatively short in and begin to function. From the outset the institute had to decide on the character of the instruction it could offer and its objectives.
It was understood that as a diplomatic training institute the focus would be on training appointees to the Overseas Service as well as those appointed to carry out diplomatic functions. Such trainings programmes were a feature of several countries and it was open to the institute to decide on a programeee that was best suited to its requirements. Courses of this kind were available at the Commonwealth Relations Office in London as well as the Diplomatic Training Institute in New Delhi or the Fletcher School in USA. The question however was to select a program,,e that was best suited to the requirements of Sri Lankans diplomats talking into account the diplomatic perspectives of the country. Another issue was whether the institute could confine itself exclusively to the training of probationers to the Sri Lankan Diplomatic Service. A decision that is discussed later was in favor of giving a national character to the institute where apart from training professionals diplomats it would attempt to promote knowledge of diplomacy and international relations to the nations at large. To the extent the institute was unique and able to establish a special identity in the field of training institutes. Thus the institute started its career in 1995 with a training programme for 15 probationers in the Sri Lanka Overseas Service and a special course designed for the general public which is known as the general course. These two programmes which were launched in 1995 marked the beginnings of the career of the institute and the next 6 years would see it expand from these beginnings to provide a comprehensive training which it offers at the present time in all fields of diplomacy and international relations.